This is the second section of a detailed and somewhat technical investigation into the biblical concept of worship, particularly in its New Testament application. These papers merit an attentive reading in order that with a better understanding, Christians engage in worship.
From the many references to Scripture in the first section of this study, it was established that to worship means to bow with reverential fear before God, and that this bowing is incumbent upon the Christian because of his relationship to God as His child and property (Psa. 95:6-7). Just as a king may rightfully claim the homage, submission, and devotion of his subjects as indicated by a physical bowing before him, so God may rightfully claim the homage which honours Him and expresses true reverence.
The Lord Jesus epitomizes the doctrine of worship for the Church age by telling the Samaritan woman, “The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him” (John 4:23). He placed the emphasis upon the bowing of the spirit. Worshippers in Old Testament times similarly worshipped in spirit, otherwise their physical homage would have been a mockery. Our Saviour intimates in this passage that true worship is now divorced from physical motions. The physical act of worship in Old Testament eras, in the full light of New Testament truth, becomes a spiritual bowing. Note, however, that although our relationship to God according to the New Testament is that of children to the father, He still insists that we bow before Him with reverential fear, “For the Father seeketh … worship.”
There is a statement of the Apostle Peter which substantiates this fact, “And if ye call on the Father, Who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Peter 1:17).
The facts concerning Christian worship may be illustrated by numerous references to pictures in the Old Testament. These illustrations indicate that the attitude of worship is not confined to any particular congregational activity, but that it may be manifest in every phase of personal life as well.
Let us investigate the possibility of the Christian worshipping in the many different circumstances of life.
Worship in communion: Abraham worshipped when Jehovah drew near to commune with him, according to the record of Genesis 18, for he recognized in one of the three visitors the Divine Person; consequently, he bowed himself toward the ground, (Hebrew, “shacheh,” elsewhere translated “to worship”), and addressed that One by the divine title, Lord. In this early reference to worship, we learn that its object is a person, a Divine Person. We may be moved to worship by thoughts of grace and glory, but it is to the person of God, the Son or the Father, the source of all grace and glory, that we render homage. The sphere of worship is where we are personally conscious of the presence of God, not necessarily where His visible presence is seen, as some later illustrations will show. Physical surroundings are secondary considerations; there was no altar or temple on the occasion when Abraham met the Lord, nevertheless, he knew God was present. The manner in which he worshipped was to bow toward the ground, not with the body only, but with the spirit and the will, for Abraham accompanied his worship by confessing the supreme lordship of the heavenly Visitor. He addressed the Man, according to Mr. Newberry, as “My Sovereign Lord,” a divine title, and called himself a servant of the Divine Visitor. Abraham in his worship laid himself in the dust and put himself completely at the disposal of Jehovah. Do we know anything of this kind of worship?
Worship in sacrifice: God eventually tested Abraham’s confession of lordship, and commanded him to offer up as a burnt offering the dearest object of his affection, his son Isaac. (Gen. 22). Abraham stated to his servants that he and the lad would go and worship. In purposing to offer up Isaac, Abraham bowed himself without reservation to the Person and the will of God; he did not withhold his best from God.
The meaning of worship on this occasion is summed up by the angel of the Lord, who said, “Now I know that thou fearest God.” Abraham’s action was motivated by a reverential fear of God which led him to obey God even in the dark.
Frequently, we read of worship being linked with service and sacrifice. Priestly service and sacrifice are not in themselves worship, but true service and acceptable sacrifice arise from a bowed, obedient, and worshipful attitude in the soul. Accordingly, it is from a worshipful person that God accepted the offering of the first-fruits with the confession that all was a gift from Himself (Deut. 26).
Worship because of benevolence: Abraham’s servant was faced with a very difficult problem, the finding of a suitable bride for his master’s son from among persons with whom he had no acquaintance (Gen. 24). He stood and prayed about the matter, but these acts are not called worship. When in amazement he saw the Lord guided exactly to the right well, the right house, and the right woman, he bowed down his head and worshipped the Lord. He acknowledged by bowing, the personal presence and intervention of God, and expressed his dependence upon the mercy, truth, and guidance of the Lord. The place of worship in this case was on a public road, the road of God’s leading.
The Lord’s hand was further seen in His moving upon the hearts of the parents of the bride to give their consent. They agreed to let Rebekah go with the unnamed servant, and to her becoming the wife of a man she had never seen, the beloved and only son of his father. Upon hearing this, Abraham’s servant again bowed to the earth in worship, acknowledging that all had proceeded from the Lord through His planning and providence. “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth’s sake” (Psa. 115:1). “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psa. 29:2).
Worship amidst conflict: As Joshua approached his first battle in the Land of Promise, he found that the Lord was not only invisibly with him, but that, as the Captain of the Lord’s host, He personally appeared to take command and to lead Israel in triumph (Josh. 5:13-15). Immediately, on understanding this, Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship in reverential recognition of the heavenly origin of this Warrior, and in submissive acknowledgement of His right to command. Joshua said, “What saith my Lord unto His servant?” A worshipping person is one who bows before the Lord and awaits His command. A worshipper in this dispensation is one who in very truth bows to the lordship of Christ. “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). “Servants obey … in singleness of heart, fearing God :And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord” (Col. 3:22-23).
Worship in service: Gideon, the wheat thresher, had been chosen by the Lord to deliver God’s people from the evils of strife, as these are pictured by the Midianites. This was so formidable a task that he was still fearful even after the Lord’s promise, “Surely, I will be with thee,” after, also, two very remarkable answers to prayer in connection with the fleece. Notwithstanding, God graciously strengthened his faith by causing him to hear the very enemy report what God would do by him. On hearing this, Gideon worshipped. His bowing to the Lord evidenced at last his readiness to obey God in the service to which he had been called. Consequently, he immediately returned to the host of Israel and said, “Arise: for the Lord hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian.”
How often a worshipful spirit was seen in Paul, whose first words after his conversion were, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?”
Worship in spite of trials: After David had penitently confessed in 2 Sam. 12:13 that it was against God he had sinned, the Lord graciously pardoned him, but in governmental discipline sent the message that evil against him would arise from within his own house. The first sorrow was to be the death of an infant son. David wept and prayed for the child’s life, and asked to be delivered from the guilt of blood, (Psa. 51:14, margin). Nevertheless, the child died. David on learning this, came into the house of the Lord and worshipped. He in effect said, “I bow me to Thy will, O God.”
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Psa. 51:17). In similar circumstances of sorrow, Job, stunned by the report of the sudden death of his seven sons, fell down upon the ground and worshipped and said, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job. 1:21).
From the foregoing illustrations of personal worship, we may conclude that true worship consists of:
First: the bowing before God in homage and reverential fear to the honour of His person as God, Creator, and Lord.
Second: the bowing before God in acceptance without reservation of His will in service, suffering, and sacrifice.
Third: the bowing before God in acknowledgement that every blessing has been provided by His mercy and faithfulness.